"The image I have given of Khamenei and the image we have from him now demonstrate what power does to people, how it turns a tortured prisoner into someone who is in charge of hundreds of torturers," says Houshang Asadi.
Former Iranian political activist and prominent
Asadi was jailed under
the rule of the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. He was jailed for six years and
tortured again after Iran became an Islamic republic. The 59-year-old Asadi, who
lives in exile in Paris, recounts his experiences in a new book, "Letters
To My Torturer: Love, Revolution And Imprisonment In Iran."
In an interview with RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari, Asadi says prisons in the Islamic republic and torture methods used against political prisoners are far worse than they were under the shah's rule. Asadi also speaks about one of his former cellmates, Ali Khamenei, who is now Iran's supreme leader, as well as his torturer, "Brother Hamid," whom he says later became a diplomat.
RFE/RL: You experienced the jails of the
shah's regime in the 1970s and some 10 years later those of the Islamic
republic. How different were they? When you compare the prison conditions and
torture you were subjected to, which one was worse?
Houshang Asadi: I wasn't tortured in prison during the shah's regime. I was just slapped once in the face, but I witnessed how many of my friends were tortured. In the prisons of the Islamic republic, I was subjected to different types of torture. The main difference I see is the difference between an ideological intelligence apparatus and a nonideological one.
Under the shah, intelligence officers would do their work; they were after information and they would unfortunately use torture. In the prisons of the Islamic republic, we faced either ideologically oriented interrogators or those who pretended they were. Their first duty was to break the prisoner. Only after that would they go after information and other issues. By crushing the prisoners, they wanted to prove their ideological superiority. For them, obtaining information was secondary.
It's because of that that torture in the Islamic republic has reached astonishing dimensions. It can't be compared to the time of the shah. The Islamic republic's interrogators have made the infamous interrogators of the shah look tame by comparison.
RFE/RL: You shared a cell in 1974 with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who went on to become Iran's supreme leader. You both opposed the shah. You describe him in your book as a friendly, human person who enjoyed literature and also "inoffensive" jokes. Some have criticized you for your description of a man who is now seen by many as a dictator. Can you tell us more about your relation with Khamenei?
Asadi: What I wrote in my book about my time with Khamenei in a cell goes back 40 years. Since then, the world has gone through major changes. Khamenei, a former prisoner who spent time in a cell with someone like me, who had opposing views, has become the supreme leader. I shouldn't be criticized for writing about his personality at that time. What I wrote is true.
When I met him in prison, he was a nice person, someone who always had a smile. He was a real believer who would read the Koran and pray and weep and sob loudly. He was of a happy nature and understood literature. In general, he was a positive person. Since he came to power, the world has changed. As a matter of fact, I think the image I have given of Khamenei and the image we have from him now demonstrate what power does to people, how it turns a tortured prisoner into someone who is in charge of hundreds of torturers and who tortures others through them.
RFE/RL: What would you tell Khamenei if you could talk to him right now?
Asadi: On a cold winter day in 1975, I was about to be transferred from the cell we'd been sharing. [Khamenei], who was very thin, was shaking. I was wearing a sweater, which I took off and gave to him. He first resisted and didn't want to take it. When he finally accepted it and put it on, we hugged each other. He cried and told me, "Houshang, when Islam will come to power, not a single tear will be shed."
I would like to ask him, "Mr. Khamenei, do you remember what you said that day? Now that you've become the most powerful ruler in the history of Iran, is no tear being shed? Or, on the contrary, are we witnessing tragedies that are unprecedented in the history of Iran?"
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: "Someone who always had a smile."
Green Movement supporters raise flags with the slogan "We Are Countless"
during postelection protests in 2009.
RFE/RL: I want to go back to your torturer,
"Brother Hamid," whom you identify as Naser Sarmadi Parsa. You say you later
found out, upon seeing his picture, that he had become Iran's ambassador to
Tajikistan. Do you know whether he still has a government job and would you send
him your book if you knew his address?
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